It took four long years and five exasperating seasons, but The Walking Dead is finally good. Inexplicably, implausibly good. If every one of its 59 episodes to date were as exhilarating as the last half-season, this would be one of the best shows on television.
Converts to the cause advanced a number of persuasive theories to account for the improvement. It had become less predictable and more volatile, for one thing, dispatching big bads as swiftly as they arrived and keeping tension high without the usual padding and repetition—and without killing people off for the sake of shock.
For longtime endurers of The Walking Dead's frequent gaffes and pratfalls, this was all encouraging news. The show has settled into something like an ideal form—and it has so far managed to sustain that caliber for eight consecutive episodes. The series is set to return to AMC for another eight rounds starting Sunday, and hopes are understandably high. Here are the things we hope to see from the show as season five runs its course—and the things we need it to avoid.
1. Get Out Of Georgia
It isn't hard to imagine the appeal of northern Georgia for the people behind The Walking Dead. Its remote and densely wooded countryside no doubt makes the show's long and arduous shoots a lot more manageable, while the uniformity of the landscape for miles makes it easy to shoot in the same few spots without viewers noticing. But we're going on five full seasons of the same dirt roads and same towering trees, and it's beginning to feel rather stale—even with the occasional foray into downtown Atlanta.
We've yet to get a sense of the toll the apocalypse has taken on the rest of the world, and it would be a much-needed change of style and mood if our heroes were to make a committed trip at least beyond the state border. Washington was revealed to be a bust early on, but we'd be happy with any new scenery.
2. Respect Death
One of the reasons Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead comics won over readers was its unusual readiness to kill: No character was safe from his mercurial pen, and even the most innocent or beloved people were taken down ruthlessly if it served the story. AMC's The Walking Dead has retained the bloodlust, but in the context of post-Game of Thrones serialized TV, the tendency to write people out seems like an easy way to take the audience by surprise.
The first half of season five reined back on the habit, mercifully, and only two of the show's ensemble wound up cut—and in both cases the decision felt warranted. The death of another major character seems all but guaranteed at this point, but it would be nice if the show could at least spare us the indignity of sensationalistic shock. Someone can, and probably will, die. We just want to be sure it counts for something more than a cheap trick.
3. Stop Waffling
One of The Walking Dead's best qualities is a natural fact of the serialized format: We're always eager to find out what happens next. Things build on this show, in other words, and over time the characters and situations bear the weight of all the horrible things that came before.
The first half of season five made intriguing use of Rick's diminishing morals, revealing him as well past the point of considered debate—a meaningful change over the early seasons that registered with a certain psychological weight. We just hope the show resists the temptation to tease us with the consequences, as it's done so many times before. If Rick has gone too far, fine, but stick to that conclusion.
4. Keep Together
The second half of The Walking Dead's fourth season was built around a convenient gimmick: The group was separated after the Governor's attack on the prison, and each episode would catch up with one or two members before finally drawing them together.
Fair enough, but this isn't the first time, as it happened after the farm infestation at the end of season two, and again in season five with Beth, Carol, and the trip to D.C. Now the group has once again been reunited, and we hope for the sake of common sense that it stays that way, at least for awhile. A cast this large is hard to handle each week, certainly. But constantly splitting up and regrouping has been done to death.
5. Let The Actors Do Their Thing
The Walking Dead is a show about zombies, but of late its best moments have been human. That's a testament to the talent of the cast, which over the last season has really fallen into place. Veterans from The Wire, like Chad Coleman and Seth Gilliam, gave some really stellar work last season, while new addition Tyler James Williams (who was outstanding in last year's movie Dear White People) stood out even with a somewhat underdeveloped role.
Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus, especially, have really come into their own with their characters, with their intensity reaching almost feral levels. We hope the show remembers that while big-budget special effects and blockbuster action sequences may satisfy from time to time, the foundation of the show is its performances, which need to be given the room they deserve.
This article was originally published on Esquire.com